Climate change: ‘We vulnerable countries are not asking for much’

Credit: Original article can be found here

More than 100 developing countries have put out a call for increased ambition on climate change from rich nations, including New Zealand, Marc Daalder reports.

New Zealand is named as one of the nations which needs to pledge to steeper emissions cuts, in a new five-point plan for climate change backed by more than half of the world’s countries.

The document, released by a number of non-government organisations from the global South, lays out five pleas for rich nations and priorities ahead of the global COP26 climate summit in November. On at least two of these measures, New Zealand is falling short.

In addition to setting targets that are too lenient, New Zealand is also not contributing proportionately to a commitment for rich countries to provide US$100 billion in climate financial aid by 2020.

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“We vulnerable countries are not asking for much. Just that richer countries, who have caused this problem, take responsibility by cutting their emissions and keeping their promise to help those their emissions have harmed,” Sonam Wangdi, secretary of Bhutan’s National Environment Commission and chair of a coalition of 47 developing nations most exposed to climate change.

“COP26 needs to be a summit where we see action not words. We have enough plans: what we need is for major economies to start delivering on their promises. Our economies are suffering in the face of increased climate impacts and budgetary strains: either we invest our way out of this mess or we face a brutal decade of loss and damage.”

“Developed countries are currently not pulling their weight or keeping their promises on their obligations to provide climate finance. Like any negotiation, you need to have faith that pledges and commitment will be met. In 2009 and 2015, they promised to deliver climate finance by 2020. Yet, this is still to be met, and we don’t have a clear plan to achieve it,” Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale the chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators, said.

Climate aid insufficient

Last year, the OECD estimated that it was falling short of the climate aid pledge by US$21.1 billion, but a subsequent analysis from Oxfam suggested the shortfall could be as high as US$81 billion.

The plan calls for an official stocktake of progress towards the goal. Climate Change Minister James Shaw said he had no problem with this stocktake but said the focus should be on rich nations stepping up “their efforts to support developing countries to respond to the climate crisis.

“The scale of the climate crisis is such that mobilising finance commensurate with the quantum of what needs to be done will require nearly all financial flows, public and private, to be consistent with a pathway towards meeting the Paris Agreement goal. When the world comes together at the global climate talks in Glasgow later this year, the US$100 billion goal should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling on the support we provide to developing countries.”

New Zealand is set to exceed its own commitments for climate finance, to provide $300 million in climate-related aid between 2019 and 2022. However, one calculation suggests that our climate aid budget should be a minimum of $286 million each year to contribute fairly to the US$100 billion target.

In December, Oxfam New Zealand released a report evaluating New Zealand’s climate aid spending. It rated us highly for providing all of our aid in grants instead of loans, but found our per capita climate spend in 2017-18 was third-last among developed countries.

That spend has increased since, hitting $110 million in 2019 and projected to reach $174 million in 2021. But in order for New Zealand to contribute fairly to the US$67 billion in public finance expected for the 2020 pledge, we would have to be spending between $286.5m and $496m every year from 2020 onward, Oxfam found.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the focus should be on rich nations stepping up "their efforts to support developing countries to respond to the climate crisis.”


Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the focus should be on rich nations stepping up “their efforts to support developing countries to respond to the climate crisis.”

The lower bound was calculated based on New Zealand’s capability to contribute to the goal and our historical responsibility for carbon dioxide pollution (but not methane, which makes up 42 per cent of our emissions), in comparison to those metrics from other developed countries. The upper bound was calculated on a simple population basis – New Zealand makes up about 0.52 per cent of the developed world and therefore would be on the hook for 0.52 per cent of the pledge.

“Compared to other high-income countries, when population is taken into account, New Zealand is not a generous climate finance donor,” Oxfam’s Alex Johnston said at the time.

“Climate finance is a lifeline for communities facing record heatwaves, terrifying storms and devastating floods. Wealthy countries like New Zealand, who have the economic capacity to act and the historical responsibility for causing climate change, owe nations on the frontlines urgent and proportionate finance to meet the scale of the crisis on their doorsteps.”

Since Oxfam’s report, New Zealand has updated its international aid commitments, pledging to spend $2.5 billion over the next three years. That’s an increase in the dollar amount of spending but a reduction when compared to Gross National Income.

It’s unclear what proportion of that spending might be earmarked for climate. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Government had yet to make commitments for the next period of climate aid. And Shaw said decisions would be announced ahead of COP26.

Net zero sooner

Alongside climate aid, the five-point plan calls for developed countries to commit to steeper emissions cuts. This includes committing to net zero targets “well before” 2050. It is unclear if these targets would just be for carbon dioxide (the Climate Change Commission says we could reach net zero CO2 by 2038), for long-lived gases (we’ve committed to net zero long-lived emissions by 2050) or all gases (we expect to still be emitting as much as a million tonnes of methane in 2050).

Shaw didn’t say whether New Zealand should or would adopt an all-gases net zero target, when asked by Newsroom.

“The most important thing here is to follow the science. A couple of weeks ago I said that one of the principles I want to see applied to the Government’s forthcoming Emission Reduction Plan is to make sure it cuts emissions in line with what the science requires. That is absolutely non-negotiable,” he said.

The report said these targets were not too big of an ask.

“In case those demands seem overly ambitious, or the targets recently set by nations and blocs including the US, EU, UK, Japan and Canada seem adequate, they should properly be judged against the national targets generated by ‘fair shares’ accounting, which allocates emission cuts to countries based on their historical responsibility and capacity to act,” the plan said.

“In many cases, fair shares accounting shows that richer nations should already have passed net zero emissions by 2030 and be absorbing more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit.”

Australia, for example, was encouraged to more than double its intended reductions.

New Zealand wasn’t given a specific recommendation but was told to do more.

“Fair shares accounting sets similar targets for other developed nations including New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland,” the report said.

Previous calculations by Oxfam indicated that New Zealand’s “fair share” would require it to reduce emissions by between 80 and 99 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. Our current Paris target, which the Government has pledged to update, would see emissions fall just 11 per cent on 1990 levels.

The Climate Change Commission found in its final advice that our Paris target “is not compatible with contributing to global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C”.

In part, this was because it did not reflect New Zealand’s fair share.

“I think the conversation about what does New Zealand believe its fair share is an important conversation. And in general my personal conclusion is, we need to do as much as we can, not as little as we can get away with,” commission chair Rod Carr told Newsroom in November.

“If you’re one of the nations that’s benefited by your emissions in the past, then there is an obligation to do more than the nations that have been less contributing and less benefiting from the carbonised economy of the last 150 years.”

However, the commission in its final advice declined to provide a specific recommendation for what would be consistent with New Zealand’s fair share obligations, saying that was a decision for politicians to make.

“Determining what our fair share should be looks, at first glance, to be a simple matter of setting a target that takes into account our position as wealthy, developed country whose economic development was founded on the change brought about by the industrial revolution. However, it is actually quite a complex matter to grapple with, which is why I have asked for officials to advise me on the various ways ‘fair share’ can be considered,” Shaw told Newsroom.

“I have no fixed position yet but there are lots of ways it could be done – from using per capita emissions, to factoring in historical economic development, to considering the emission reduction potential in different sectors of the economy. Even then it’s not easy to get to an answer of what is a ‘fair share’. One has to consider if all of these issues should be given equal weighting in determining a target, or whether they should be weighted differently. If differently, then what should we give the most weighting to?”